Meal Patterns for Preschoolers in School Nutrition Programs

Overview

School Nutrition Programs | Program Guidance | Forms | Resources | Nutrition Education

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) meal patterns for preschoolers (ages 1-4) in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) , School Breakfast Program (SBP), and Afterschool Snack Program (ASP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) of the NSLP are legislated by the USDA final rule, Child and Adult Care Food Program: Meal Pattern Revisions Related to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and follow the same requirements as the CACFP. For detailed guidance on the preschool meal pattern requirements and crediting foods, refer to the CSDE's Menu Planning Guide for Preschoolers in the NSLP and SBP.


Meal Patterns  |   Menu Planning  |   Meal Service
Serving the Same Menu to Preschoolers and Grades K-12
Preschoolers Eating with Other Grades (Co-mingled Meals)


Meal Patterns for Preschoolers

Meal Service for Preschoolers

Serving the Same Menu to Preschoolers and Grades K-12

The NSLP, SBP, SSO, and ASP meal patterns for preschoolers and grades K-12 are different. When school food authorities (SFAs) serve the same lunch, breakfast, or snack menu to both groups, the menu items must comply with whichever requirements are stricter. For example, the NSLP, SBP, and SSO meal patterns for grades K-12 have stricter whole grain-rich (WGR) criteria than the preschool meal patterns. Meals served to both groups must comply with the WGR criteria for grades K-12. The NSLP, SBP, SSO, and ASP preschool meal patterns require a sugar limit for yogurt and breakfast cereals, but the meal patterns for grades K-12 do not. Yogurt and breakfast cereals served to both groups must comply with the preschool sugar limit. 

Preschoolers Eating with Other Grades (Co-mingled Meals)

“Co-mingling” is the practice of serving meals to a variety of grades in the same service area at the same time. This typically occurs due to operational constraints within a school, such as limited time and space. When students are co-mingled, the school may use the meal pattern of the older grades (such as the K-5 meal pattern) for preschoolers if:

  • preschoolers and students from older grade groups (such as K-5, K-8, or K-12) are served together in the same place at the same time;
  • it is hard to tell the preschoolers from older students; and
  • it would be operationally difficult to serve different foods or different amounts of foods during the combined meal service.

For example, when preschoolers and grades K-5 are served lunch or breakfast in the same service area at the same time, SFAs may choose to follow the K-5 meal pattern for both groups. When preschoolers and grades K-8 are served lunch or breakfast in the same service area at the same time, SFAs may choose to follow the K-8 meal pattern for both groups. When preschoolers and grades K-12 are served ASP snack in the same service area at the same time, SFAs may choose to follow the ASP meal pattern for grades K-12 for both groups. 

The preschool meal patterns provide the amounts and types of foods that most younger children need for healthy growth and development. The USDA strongly encourages SFAs to find ways to serve grade-appropriate meals and ASP snacks to preschoolers and older students to best address their nutritional needs. SFAs must follow the preschool meal patterns when meals and ASP snacks are served to preschoolers in a different area (such as a separate serving line or meals in the classroom) or at a different time.